Tag Archives: UK

There ain’t no (Beer) party like a Beer Mansion

Music Cellar...

In recent years, I’ve gotten more and more into Craft beers – As part of my 40 Project, I tried to drink local beers from places whilst on my travels (I actually went to a local Birmingham brewery but didn’t manage to take any photos so am not counting it). I was briefly into Real Ales whilst at University, but I was never really someone whom liked lagers when out drinking with friends. My memories of it was mainly of my Dad treating himself to a pint of lager or bitter from the pub opposite the Takeaway and when trying a mouthful myself, complaining about how bitter it was. By no means would I consider myself to be an expert, but yunno, I think I have a fairly decent palette, I know what kind of tastes and flavours I do and don’t like and it’s been (and continues to be) a real voyage of discovery as I continue to not only learn about, but discover new, tasty beers from the ever growing list of breweries out there. I do have some favourite breweries, ones that have consistently good beers across their portfolio – Anchor Brewery, Founders, Magic Rock and Brooklyn Brewery.

Summer Ale

Admittedly, I have a bit of a soft spot for Brooklyn as they’re probably THE brewery that really got me interested into craft beer. Whilst I was busy avoiding Brooklyn Lager through fear of bringing back unpleasant childhood memories of drinking lager (by virtue of containing the word “lager”), it was at the brilliant Grillstock that I got to drink the very delicious Brooklyn Summer Ale for the very first time – It was light, crisp with a slight fruity note – words I would normally use to describe wine, not beer and yunno, it was absolutely perfect for drinking on a long, warm summer night. It was also from that weekend at Grillstock that I got to try other beers like the East India Pale Ale which was delicious, but a whopping 6.9% – Which I didn’t realise at the time when I bought a case for some friends who were competing in the King of the Grill contest, oops!. From there, I tried other beers in the Brooklyn range and very quickly, Brooklyn Brown Ale established itself as a firm favourite of mines (along with Summer Ale both of which are 2 of my favourite beers and regular go-to beers). It was from here that I learned about the BQE range of beers and fortunately for me, the (also very brilliant) Stirchley Wines tend to stock beers from the BQE range and again, I’m generally impressed with what Brooklyn produce. I should also point out that I have since tried Brooklyn lager and (as expected from a brewery that takes taste and flavour seriously, rather than mass-producing something bland), it’s actually really nice and nothing like anything my Dad used to drink.

American Ale

Through the joys of social media, I learned that Brooklyn Brewery were bringing their Mash to London – A series of different types of events over a few days – And whilst I don’t live in London, I was keen to see if there was anything I could make it to (without taking any leave from work as I may need to save them for other fun things this year…) and my eyes are drawn to the Beer Mansion. I really wanted to go to the feast – A collaboration with Smoking Goat but given it was midweek, it would have meant a bit of a dash to and after (not that I could buy tickets anyway, it was more of a raffle).  Quick message to my craft beer brother, Moon, and I’m booking tickets for the Beer Mansion along with accommodation.

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The Beer Mansion was described as “an immersive beer experience” and if I’m completely honest, my first thoughts after reading that were that it was a load of pretentious marketing twaddle so upon arriving to the entrance to MC Motors in the back streets of Stoke Newington, I didn’t really know what to expect – But I went in with an open mind…

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So we arrived at the back of what seemed like a former car mechanic’s yard and there were ship containers a-plenty, all stack on top of each other. Quick scan to make sure we had actually bought tickets and literally before we could step into the entrance/shipping container, the bouncer (shades, black suit and all) sternly instructed us to “grab a beer” and pointed at 2 large black plastic bins filled with iced water and cans of various Brooklyn beers. Naturally, we weren’t going to argue with the scary bouncer and I headed straight for a can of my beloved Summer Ale whilst Moon went for the American Ale. Right by the entrance, we’re approached by someone whom obviously works there (walkie-talkie, dressed in Brooklyn Brewery clothing…) and asked if we’d just arrived (yes) and whether we’d been told about the Beer Mansion. Claiming (quite rightly) ignorance,He proceeded to tell us that “This is a beer festival – with 50+ beers in different settings for you to appreciate” and his best advice to us was “to not stay in one space for too long.” Well, that would be our interest piqued. Moving to one end of the courtyard, there were plenty of people lining up for food (provided by Voodoo Ray Pizza), playing Cornhole or like us, just chatting and drinking the (free) beer and making the most of the sun coming out to play. We’d only just got there and were already loving it..

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As the night went on, we took the advice of the aforementioned guy and started to explore the complex – There were indeed lots of different areas with different themed bars at each spot, all with beers for you to try. In the courtyard by the entrance, they were offering Brooklyn Bel Air Sour – Which I *loved*. I’m really into my sours atm, and this one was an absolute cracker! Going downstairs to what was ostensibly a basement, there was a DJ on one side and an (empty) stage at the other with another bar nearby – This time with another 4 different varieties to try. Everywhere you went, there was a bar with yet more beer to try, soon it became clear what the advice meant – You really wanted to continue exploring the complex and trying different beers in different settings. Hell, there was even a photo booth – Who doesn’t love a photo booth (especially after a few drinks?). There was so much to see and do, including a slight element of danger added to the proceedings in the form of concrete stairs steeper than those found at the Colosseum in Rome with a bit of loose rope pretending to be a banister.  I mean, even the security bod had to keep saying to people (in his stern voice) to take care which presumably, he had to after too many ppl were staggering up (and down) them.  I was a bit overwhelmed by it all, but the main feeling was one of disbelief that everything (including danger and comedy elements) were included in the £10 for the ticket?!

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One of my favourite bars within the Beer Mansion was where Head of Culinary Programme Chef for Brooklyn Brewery Andrew Gerson essentially plated a dish in our palms and paired it with one of the beers. The dish was some lightly cured salmon with micro herbs, roasted seeds and nuts, some sauce and it was very nice indeed. More to the point, it did pair exceptionally well with the beer and was for me, a perfect example of drinking beer differently. I stood a little in awe, watching wave after wave of people crowd round and follow instructions given diligently and seeing the reactions on all their faces after eating the dish. If I wasn’t already having a brilliant time, this last experience completely cemented it for me.

Food and beer pairing (with Andrew Gerson) Food and beer pairing (with Andrew Gerson) Talking through the food... topping.. Hands at the ready..

I left the Beer Mansion completely in awe at what I experienced – So much thought and planning had gone into it and it was a very slick operation, but it didn’t lose its core ideal in that it was something to not only allow you try different (Brooklyn) Beers, but also try them in different settings which may (or may not) enhance the experience. Truly, I had never experienced anything like it but that’s not to say that it was a bad thing. I admit, I do like Brooklyn Brewery beers – They’re very drinkable! – And by the end of it, I admit that I was taken in by the marketing spiel, but the Beer Mansion was just something else and very special. They have set the bar  impossibly high for others when it comes to Beer Festivals and I tell you what, if Brooklyn Brewery bring the circus that is the Brooklyn Brewery Mash round to the UK again, I will be clearing my diary to make as many events as possible, wherever it may be.

Signage Bounty from the night

More photos can be found at my Flickr album

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…

There was a bit (well, a long) gap between completing things for my Year 40 Project as I was not only busy with work (which involved an office relocation) or Chinese New Year, but also because I knew that with my planned trips this year, I would be able to tick a few items off the list in one fell swoop. And so it came to be that I didn’t do anything until the end of March where I had booked a few days off leading up to Easter and planned a short trip to Lyon (more of that in another post), but in our planning stage, I was a bit worried that spending a week there was too long, so we cut it to a few days instead. This of course meant we had a couple of days free and YKL (being the genius that she is), suggested a quick cheeky overnight stay in Whitstable where not only could we take advantage of native oysters being available (Is there an “R” in the month? CHECK!), but we could also go to one of our favourite places in the UK, The Sportsman for lunch the following day if we stayed overnight (and it also gave us an opportunity to eat at Wheelers, another iconic restaurant and generally relax and enjoy being in Whitstable). Hotels and trains booked, more people added to join us, it was just a matter of waiting…

Dinner at Wheelers was booked for 19:30 and for one reason or another, we didn’t actually make it to the Harbour until gone 16:00. That, combined with the fact that there wasn’t just bad weather, but strong gales forecasted overnight meant there weren’t many places left open and those that were open were very limited in their choices. Undeterred, we all went for the what we could make from an Oyster Crawl; First place we went too didn’t have any natives left, but we weren’t going to pass up on the opportunity to sit down and have some freshly shucked oysters – And they were delicious.

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By the time we finished our oysters, there were even fewer places left open and it was still a couple of hours at least until our booking at Wheelers – A fine Whitstable institution. What initially was a cheeky request to ask if we could leave some bottles of wine with them to be chilled (it’s BYO) quickly turned into an impromptu continuation of our Oyster Crawl when we learned they had some native oysters in and were willing to shuck some for us to eat. Well, the native oysters were just something else – This was my first native oyster in Whitstable, and furthermore, it was at Wheeler’s. It wasn’t just another item ticked off the 40 list, it was a moment to savour.

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However, a couple of oysters alone are not very filling when you’re pretty much famished and I have a thing about wanting to eat fish and chips at the seaside. Initially I headed to a pub where they looked to be pretty well known for their fish and chips, only to be told they only serve food at lunch times. So upon asking the barman where best to go, he directed me to the Whitstable Fish Bar and warned me that it wasn’t anything special, but the fish and chips there were good. After meeting up with YKL, we headed over to yunno, eat fish and chips before our dinner..

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Admittedly, my heart sank a little when I walked in because a quick glance at the menu saw they offered Southern Fried Chicken and Doner Kebabs – The usual fare you could get from any chippy anywhere. However, there wasn’t much in the hot plate so I ordered a fish and chips and was told to sit down as the food was cooked. It was only then I spotted a poster offering freshly battered whitebait and whilst ordering a portion in addition to the fish and chips would be too much, neither YKL nor I really wanted to pass up on the opportunity of whitebait. So, YKL suggested we have just fish and some whitebait – which would be ideal as it’s the chips which are more filling anyway. Order amended, we tried not to kill anyone who got their food first because it smelled so good, but it wasn’t too long before we got our fish and whitebait.

Fish and Whitebait

The fish may not have been the freshest I’ve ever eaten – But it was pretty decent. Similarly, the whitebait could probably have been a bit fresher. But the winner was the coating and/or batter – The whitebait were breadcrumbed very well and were delicious, but the most amazing thing was the batter on the fish – It was so crisp that biting into it probably caused a seismic event somewhere in the globe. Truly, one of the best pieces of battered fish I’ve ever eaten. You all know I love Bedders here in Brum, but if I could get the freshness of the fish at Bedders combined with the batter at Whitstable Fish Bar – That would be battered fish nirvana for me. Sure, fish and chips in Whitstable wasn’t on the 40 list, nor was fish and chips at the Seaside, but if you ever find yourself in Whitstable, you should do yourselves a favour and come here for fish and chips.

detail: batter

Still having a bit of time before our booking at Wheelers (mercifully for digestion purposes), we decided to look for somewhere to drink. I wasn’t going back to the pub I went to previously mainly because it was something from the TV where all that was needed was the needle to scratch from the record player and for the whole pub to suddenly go quiet as I walked (well, stumbled) through the doors. OK, may be exaggerating a teensy bit, but it wasn’t far off… As luck would have it, the three of us (Q had joined us at this stage) stumbled upon The Black Dog. We (well I) had spotted it on our way to the Harbour earlier in the day and in the past couple of years, I’ve been getting into the craft beer scene, so was well up for a pop inside.

Bar

I wasn’t at all disappointed inside with the long high banquette lining either side of the bar. Seriously, they were so high that my feet didn’t touch the ground at all when sat down. They had a few barrels of beers in the background and the room, whilst dimly lit, had walls adorned with interesting – some may say quirky – choices of artwork, but hey! Any place where the door to the only loo is covered by posters and pictures of rock god/guitarist Slash, that’s alright by me..

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As for the beer? Well, the cellar, although small with only a few barrels of beer, is kept impeccably and the beer we had was not only at the right temperature, but there was an interesting selection on offer. It’s the kind of place where I would have stayed much longer if we didn’t already have plans for dinner at Wheelers. And that deserves a post all by itself…

For now though, I loved my short visit to Whitstable – I wish I could have stayed a bit longer. It’s not just the fact that I was by the seaside (coming from and living in landlocked Birmingham) and I got to eat in some really fantastic places (like Wheeler’s and The Sportsman), but I was genuinely surprised by how nice and friendly everyone in Whitstable was. Of course, it may by the cynical City Girl in me speaking and I’m generally surprised when people respond with anything more than a grunt, but I can honestly say that the people of Whitstable are lovely. More to the point, Whitstable itself is a lovely place with some really nice places to eat and drink, also to see and do and well, let’s not forget the fantastic fresh seafood available there.

Sushi Tetsu, London

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There’s been a bit of a buzz on the ol’ Interweb and Twitter about a new sushi bar opening in Clerkenwell, London. Sushi Tetsu was opened by former Nobu chef, Toru Takahashi and his wife in a tiny place in Jerusalem Passage in Clerkenwell, London. It’s only been open a month, but has already won over most food critics and various foodies in the blogosphere with their authenticity and what’s been described as “the closest thing you’ll get to being in Tokyo”. It’s already established cult status within the foodie world and well, I’m willing to travel for good food..

It was actually a bit of a palaver trying to get there as I initially booked to go with TSW and she was only free on a Monday, and I thought that whilst it was a bit unusual that a sushi place was open on a Monday but booked anyway. Then I read that they get their fish fresh every day from Billingsgate Market so I felt better about going – Until Nick and Lap told me that Billingsgate isn’t open on Mondays, so I began to wonder how fresh the fish was going to be. I mean, as Lap teased, thawed Mekong Delta catfish could be a possibility so with haste, we re-arranged the booking. As luck would have it, I had to go to Londinium for a few work meetings; *KER-CHING!*. A dinner reservation (without TSW who was away for her work) was hastily booked.

Sushi Tetsu is located in a quiet alleyway behind the Modern Pantry and the Zetter (with the Bistrot Bruno Loubet) in Clerkenwell. The inside is quite small too – A counter with 7 seats and 1 other table (which can seat up to 4). So, not many seats but it suits Takahashi-san as it’s a 1 man operation with Harumi doing the drinks and greeting guests as they arrive, but Takahashi-san does all the preparation (and cleaning afterwards) and he gives you his full attention during your meal there. Given it was quite early (I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to eat at a leisurely pace before getting a train home), it was just myself and another young Japanese couple dining there. Sat down in prime position at the counter, I chatted to Takahashi-san and explained that rather than me bumbling about the menu, I’d like to go for Omakase (chef’s choice) of both Sashimi and Sushi, to which he recommended a set of 5 different types of fish for sashimi and 8 + 1 roll for the sushi. I was completely at his mercy but was completely happy for him to choose for me and with a warm towel brought to me by Harumi, I sat back and let the feasting commence;

The sashimi platter offered included turbot, pickled sardine, scallop, sea bass, spot prawn and midi-toro. As you would expect from such a high-quality restaurant, every single component was fresh and delicious. It took all my self-control to not inhale the plate in one go but the biggest surprise was the sea bass. Long has the sea bass suffered in my culinary world because it was pretty much the only fish the Mothership ate in her later years to the point where even in other sushi places where they offer sea bass, I’ve never really enjoyed it. But the sea bass here, it was a reasonably thick slice but it was sweet and as with all good raw fish, it tasted of the sea and not fishy. I actually stopped myself mid-conversation with the young couple who were there and exclaimed: “OMHMYGODTHATISDELICIOUS!”, much to the amusement of everyone there. Seriously, could not fault a single item on the whole dish and if what followed was anywhere near as good as the sashimi platter, I was in for a fantastic night. So with a single bamboo leaf laid out in front of my with a pile of sushi ginger at one end, Takahashi-san started on the sushi;

Master at work (Scallop) Sashimi It's all coming together... Finished plate - Sashimi

Kicking off the sushi was the turbot; a single nigiri was placed on the bamboo leaf and in I went. What I hadn’t noticed as I was mesmerised by watching Takahashi-san working was that he had put tiny, fine marks into the fish so that it would absorb the delicate soy seasoning he applied to each piece better (and also helps to break down the fish when you eat it). This happened throughout the rest of the meal and even though you have the option for more soy sauce to dip in your sushi, there really is no need as each piece is perfectly seasoned by Takahashi-san. Oh, and the fish was really sensational – sweet and tender – but almost with a slight crunch when you bite into it, I did feel a bit like I had inhaled the nigiri and wondered if I should take my time to savour each bite, otherwise it was going to be a very short visit!

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I needn’t have worried because next on offer was Ebi – Shrimp. Now, these are often given a bad rep by Supermarket sushi packs because they only offer cooked fish (longer shelf life, you see), and what you do get is overcooked, bland and texturally is closer to cardboard than to any living organism at all, let alone marine life. But here, the shrimp has already been boiled but not yet peeled – Essential in retaining some of the moisture. The prawn was so big that it seemed to envelope the rice rather than be perched on top. The inside of the butterflied-open prawn was given a quick scorch by a blow torch which not only helped elevate this prawn nigiri above others in terms of temperature, but the slight char it left on the flesh added another dimension to the whole flavour of the prawn – Utterly delicious.

Blowtorching the inside of the prawn Ebi Nigiri

Given how fantastic the Ebi nigiri was, it was interesting to see how tuna nigiri should be done (again, as compared to what you may get from the chilled cabinets of supermarkets). The fish was soft and almost bouncy in texture as you chewed. The rice was warm, soft with a slight hint of vinegar and perfectly seasoned where it was almost creamy when you chewed it. That, combined with the bouncy texture of the fish was a great marriage, especially in the yellowtail and the razor clam which had a satisfying crunch when you bit into it. In fact, the same could be applied to all the sushi which was served to me that night – Astoundingly fresh and high quality fish, each piece prepared with great care and attention you would expect from a sushi chef, perfectly seasoned and draped upon some rice which is not only perfectly seasoned and served at the right temperature so that it’s almost creamy, hand-crafted to perfection, yet rice and fish work together yet against each other. As with all good dining experiences, I was reduced to making guttural noises in appreciation.

Nigiri - Yellowtail Nigiri - razor clam

I tried to take my time and not wolf down as every piece of sushi as soon as Takahashi-san placed it on the bamboo leaf – especially when you see the care and attention he puts into making each piece (not to mention how he perfectly judges the pace of everything too, so you’re never too rushed, nor are you waiting to excessive periods of time in between offerings) – But every single piece was just so delicious, I could see why people are already raving about this place. It helped that the couple whom were also there were lovely and we got to having a decent chat – Even though I asked a near impossible question to answer when I asked “what makes a good sushi bar?” (The answer to which is that it’s completely subjective, some like to eat in complete silence whereas others may like more banter between guests and/or the chef, so there isn’t a definitive answer as such).

Nigiri - Salmon Nigiri - Tuna Nigiri - Yellowtail Salmon roe

And then came the o-toro. Oh GOD! The o-toro! I had known how this is the prized (and most expensive) part of the tuna because it’s the part of the belly which is seriously marbled with fat – And the Japanese know that fat=flavour. I have had midi-toro and chu-toro plenty of times, but I couldn’t actually remember if I had tried o-toro or not in the UK. Takahashi-san brought out a slab of o-toro, impossibly marbled with fat so that it was more fat than meat and carefully sliced a piece out and fashioned it on top of some of the delicious rice. Then, to my surprise, Takahashi-san also charred the o-toro slightly and placed it onto the bamboo mat in front of me. So how was it? Well, it was another Serious Foodie Moment for me; the o-toro was rich and creamy with a slight smokiness from being blow-torched, it practically melted in my mouth before I had to chew the soft grains of rice. I could easily see why o-toro is so revered in Japan and it had me practically begging for another piece!

Preparing the o-toro Ready to be blow-torched Blowtorching Nigiri - O-Toro

To round things off, the one maki roll was offered. I saw Takahashi-san making the roll with speed and precision but I wasn’t too sure what the main ingredient was (other than the cucumber). When presented, I was told that it was scallop skirt with cucumber and shiso leaf. Well! Who’d have thought that Scallop skirt would be so delicious? The satisfying crunch from the scallop skirt combined with the cool, refreshing cucumber, lightly toasted sesame seeds and minty shiso leaf was an absolute revelation and if you like something different, you should absolutely try this.

P7192063 Ready to roll Rolling rolling rolling.. Maki - Scallop skirt (mantle), cucumber and shiso leaf

Then came the killer question from Takahashi-san: “Would you like more?” Mindful of the time as I had a train to catch, but at the same time not really wanting this experience to end, I asked Takahashi-san if he had any eel. I have to admit, I’m a bit of a sucker for grilled eel and as a consequence, always try to order it whenever I can. However, I was also keen to try the sea urchin given the quality of the fish and asked if I should go for the eel or the sea urchin; to which the reply was to have the eel this time because the quality was much better and also “Jay Rayner’s favourite”. Well, who am I to disagree with Takahashi-san given the quality of food thus far, and also with Jay Rayner (who would publish his review on Sushi Tetsu a few weeks later). And how I was glad I did here – grilled eel with a thin layer of fat between the crisp skin and meaty flesh with the sweet soy sauce perched upon that killer soft, seasoned rice. I had to pause and savour the moment because it was so damned good.

nigiri - unagi

And that’s the thing about Sushi Tetsu: I am (reliably) informed that it’s authentic and as close to something you’d experience in Japan, but a lot of people then state the obvious and say that will never be “truly authentic” or as good as Tokyo because the fish is mainly sourced from Billingsgate – And Billingsgate is no Tsukiji. Well of course it bloody isn’t! And if you’re going to make impossible comparisons, it will never be great. Rather, why can’t we celebrate what we have here; A brilliant new place with exceptionally high quality sashimi and sushi composed of ingredients and resources that are available to the chef. Of course it’s not going to be the same as if you were eating somewhere in Japan, but it’s pretty damn close and makes the most of what is available to us here in the UK. I brought up how I was a bit worried about eating there on a Monday lunch time and Takahashi-san told me (in no uncertain terms) that the fish he got on Monday may not be from Billingsgate, but he had resources which meant that he could still get high quality fish. After going to Sushi Tetsu, I completely trust Takahashi-san and am confident that he would not serve any fish that he thought to be substandard (like how he told me not to go for the sea urchin earlier in my meal). In a very Asian way, I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to write about Sushi Tetsu because I am aware that I would only be adding to the hyperbole and deserved praise – Which in turn would mean that it would be even harder to get a table. But, all good things should be shared and if you can bag a reservation (at the time of typing this post, they were fully booked for lunch for 2 weeks and for Fri + Sat dinner for the next 6 weeks), then you absolutely should go.

One final thing though; when you are served the tamago at the end of the meal – Just remember that nothing sweet or hot is served at Sushi Tetsu. It’s a small detail but helped cement in my mind how brilliant this place is. I can’t comment on the authenticity and really don’t care how it compares to somewhere in Japan, all I know is that Sushi Tetsu is one of the best places out there for Sushi and Sashimi.

Tamago

You can view my full set of pictures on Flickr